Is there a standard for how to write a person's name in genealogy records or family trees?

What I'm getting at is what to do with the maiden names, or previous names. If Peter Svensson was born 1900, married and changed his name to Peter Johansson, and finally died in 1990, what would I call him in a record?

1) Peter Svensson (Johansson), 1900 - 1990
2) Peter Johansson (Svensson), 1900 - 1990

Are there other, better alternatives?

What would be correct or most common?

3 Answers 3


Name changes are just awkward, and there's no real perfect way to handle them.

The general standard is to record names as they were at birth. For example, in genealogies women are usually recorded under their maiden name not their married name. In the interest of equality I see no reason why the same principle should not apply to men who change their name.

In my genealogy software, I record all people by their name at birth. However, this may not mean the exact spelling on the birth certificate or baptism record. For example, I have an ancestor called William Baxter. His baptism reads "William Backster". All other records for him and his siblings are spelled Baxter. The clerk just didn't know how to spell very well, and his name properly spelled is William Baxter, so that's how I entered him into my genealogy software. But "properly" is always going to be a bit subjective, so it's a judgement call.

I have a relative who was an actor, who used a stage name. He was much better known by the stage name, and subsequently legally changed his name. It's a dilemma as to which name to use as the primary name in my genealogy software since his birth name bears no resemblance to his stage name. I decided on his birth name, mainly for consistency. But in an online tree, people searching for him will probably search under his better known name.

Most genealogy software allows you to enter "alternative names" or "aliases" as events/facts for individuals. I use this for adoptions, major spelling changes, or name changes.

In your case, I would enter him in my genealogy software as Peter Svensson, and add Johansson as an alternative name. I have seen people invent names in this type of case, such as saying his surname was Svensson-Johansson. If he never used this hyphenated name then I would argue that this is a wrong way of recording his name. However, this is just my preference and there may be good arguments for doing it in other ways.


It appears there is no set standard in recording name changes. Some sites offer a special section to add an alias or alternate name, but if you're looking to print-out your family tree (like I am), there is no standard form.

According to this guide found on a parenting site, you should use the birth name and add to your notes married names (or in your case an alternate name). The guide later explains that the name would "properly be shown as" first name (birth name) new surname. In your case it would be Peter (Svensson) Johansson. However, Peter Svensson (Johansson) would work just as well. In other words, the order would be the same, but the surname within the parenthesis is what's in question.

If you're unsure which method to use, you can take the more recognized name into account. For instance, I have a great-great grandfather that changed his surname. I originally recorded his birth name with his new surname in parenthesis. But then a baptism record was linked to his son with only his new surname. It appears that all documents state his new surname and not his birth name. So I ended up putting his birth name in parenthesis instead of his new surname.

  1. Martin Ramsey (Smith) *new surname in ()
  2. Martin (Ramsey) Smith *birth name in ()

Whichever style you choose, the important thing is to consistently use it throughout.


I find with married women's names it helps me keep things straight if I always use their birth name with the married name in (). They are already attached to their husband/married name already and for me it is just less clutter around a name. Ditto on prior answers being consistent is of utmost importance.

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    Commented Aug 2, 2016 at 16:06

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